Dianna looked in the mirror at the woman who stood before her. There were small streaks of grey threatening to spread to the rest of her hair and lines in the corners of her eyes. Her smile, although changed by the past fifteen years of motherhood and duty, was broader and truer than it had ever been.
She hardly resembled the young woman who detested the idea of marriage, who fought against it at every turn. Although she was still stubborn and determined, her determination had changed to that of ensuring others were treated well and that her children behaved and showed excellent character, that they were grateful for what they had and did not take anything for granted.
Dianna straightened her hair and took a deep breath, ready to face the day.
Jonas had gone out earlier that morning but would be home soon. Even when he was gone for only a short time, Dianna missed him. She loved when he was home, and they were together. Even now, she loved him every bit as much as she had when they were young and first married. Perhaps she loved him even more, having seen how time moulded him as well.
“Olivia!” Dianna called, exiting her room. She knew Olivia would already be up and around, probably reading to Micah and Gabriel, who were always the first awake from day to day. When she entered the drawing room, there they were.
“Mother, good morning,” Olivia greeted, still in her nightdress.
“And good morning to the three of you. I can see that you all must have been up for quite a while. Tell me, how has the morning been so far?” Dianna asked.
“Excellent,” Micah said, grinning broadly. He was twelve years of age and certainly had the sweetest nature of all her children. He was a tender boy who cared greatly for the thoughts and feelings of others.
“Micah helped Josephine bake muffins,” Olivia explained. “She said she did not need any assistance, but Micah wanted to help.”
“My darling boy,” Dianna said, proud of her son, who was eager even to assist the maids with their work.
“They taste delicious, Mother,” he insisted.
“You mean that you have eaten before breakfast?” she playfully scolded.
“Good heavens, is that why you helped?” Gabriel asked in complaint. He was only a year younger than Micah and far more competitive.
“N-no,” Micah insisted, shaking his head guiltily.
Dianna laughed, amused by her sons.
“It hardly matters. I am glad that you helped. Is Winifred still asleep?” she asked.
“Of course she is,” Olivia replied, smiling. “She woke up at least three times in the night.”
Dianna expected that to be true. Winifred was her restless one. At just eight years of age, she was already a portrait of Dianna’s younger self. One day, Dianna would have her work cut out for her in trying to tame her youngest.
“Very well, I think we ought to go ahead and enjoy our breakfast. Winifred and your father may eat together when they are both here,” she said.
They enjoyed their meal, and then the boys went outside to play for a while so Dianna could help Olivia with her hair and dress.
“What time are we meeting them?” Olivia asked.
“Not until after lunch. And we shall only be there for a few hours as we have company for dinner,” Dianna said.
“Oh, but I will have enough time with him, will I not?” Olivia asked further, her voice full of hope.
“Of course you will. I know how much you care about Josiah. Simon and Minnie will be there, and your father and I will walk with them and the other children so you and Josiah may walk together. You know, it is rather generous of us, given that you have not yet entered society,” Dianna said.
“But I am only two years away from doing so, and I am hardly too young for it,” Olivia insisted.
“You are not yet sixteen years,” Dianna said.
“I will be next month. I am very close, Mother. And there is nothing wrong with having a betrothed even before entering society,” she declared.
“Which is why your father and I allow you to spend so much time with Josiah, when you are chaperoned. Nevertheless, I want you to remember that this is our decision and you must be happy with the allowance we give to the two of you,” she said.
“I am, Mother. Truly, I am,” Olivia replied.
Dianna finished helping her prepare, and after a short time, Winifred woke and Jonas returned home.
“My darling, how was your morning?” she asked.
“Very well, my love. The business is thriving, which is all I could hope for. And you? How are you and the children?” he asked, kissing her on the forehead immediately after.
“We are well. You and Winifred must eat, and then we can all go outside together,” she said.
For the rest of the morning, the family enjoyed sitting outside among the sunflowers in the heat of the summer garden. Dianna inhaled the scent of an assortment of blossoms around her, thankful the day was moving along briskly. They had so much to do in the afternoon and evening that she simply wanted to get to that and see what might come of it.
After lunch, they all made their way into town, going to Hyde Park as they so often did. For once, they were not rallying or demanding the rights of workers but simply enjoying a day spent in the sun with good friends.
“Minnie!” Dianna called, rushing over to her friend, who was five months pregnant and surrounded by five others.
“There you are. I was hoping you would beat us here. It is rather busy, and I will eventually need to find a bench to sit on,” she said with a laugh.
“Yes, of course. Are you happy to walk for a little while?” Dianna asked.
“This is the part of pregnancy when I have the most energy, but you know Simon. He always wants me to rest. Every half hour, I must sit,” she said, laughing.
“Of course,” Dianna agreed, knowing how careful their husbands were when they were with child. “Well, I see that Josiah and Olivia have already managed to enter into conversation.”
“It generally does not take them long. And how are you? Is everything well?” Minnie asked.
“Yes, of course. I just want to allow them to spend plenty of time together. I think Olivia is quite eager just to be married already. But they are still so young,” Dianna said.
“It is not uncommon. Honestly, is there anything wrong with letting them marry young like so many do?” Minnie asked.
“We may think about it, but I hope that Olivia will be mature enough to understand the duties of being a wife. I know that it took a lot for me to reach that point,” Dianna said.
“And she has learned that from you. I would not worry if I were you,” Minnie said. “You have raised her well, and she understands.”
Dianna was hopeful of that, wanting her daughter to be the sort of woman who could handle marriage and know how to behave with her husband. They had truly done much to prepare their children and prevent the same ideas Dianna had when she was younger.
“And what about the other part?” Minnie asked.
“You know, the part where society will think it strange that the daughter of a duke and duchess is marrying the daughter of a businessman and a former maid …” Minnie said, trailing off.
“I have never given it a thought. Why should we care about that? Josiah is a wonderful young man, and titles are meaningless tools,” Dianna said bitterly. “You know that neither Jonas nor myself have ever thought we were better than anyone else because of our title. We should never be the sort of people who would complain or be bothered by another’s lack of nobility.”
“I know you think that way, but what about others? There are surely those in society who will disagree with that assessment,” Minnie said.
“And I care nothing for them. They may think whatever they wish. I know that your son is more than worthy of my Olivia, and I am happy to give her in marriage to him so long as they wish to be together,” Dianna said.
“I suppose I expected nothing less from you, but I do worry for his sake at times. There will be those who will attack him for it,” Minnie acknowledged.
“And that is another reason I should like them to wait until they are ready not only to handle the pressures of marriage, but the pressures of society as well,” Dianna said.
“Yes, you are correct on that. Maybe it is best that they wait, but not forever,” Minnie said with a laugh.
They walked behind Josiah and Olivia for a while, their other children wandering around and playing while Simon and Jonas walked behind. It was a perfectly lovely day, and Dianna was relieved there had been no rain to ruin it for them.
By the time the families said their farewells, Dianna’s heart was full, and she knew that Olivia was dreamy and contented with her time spent with Josiah.
“Oh, Mother, he is the loveliest man I have ever spoken with,” Olivia said later at home.
“My dear, he is the only unmarried man you have ever spoken with, but I do agree he is an ideal match for you. However, we must hurry. We arrived home later than I expected, and your hem has mud on it. You must change before the others arrive,” Dianna said.
Within the hour, Dianna’s mother and father came, along with Jonas’s mother. Soon after that, Reverend Heath arrived.
“Ah, Reverend Heath,” Dianna greeted.
Reverend Heath gave a smile and ushered his wife and their three young children inside. He no longer gave Dianna that pitiful, apologetic look, the one so filled with guilt. He now looked at her with confidence and appreciation, as a man changed by the grace and mercy he had been shown.
“It is wonderful to see you, Lady Wharton,” he said.
It had been strange the first time Mr Heath had come to their home, seeking forgiveness. Dianna had not believed him at first. She was suspicious, determined that he had some sort of devious plan. But when he shared that he had experienced a dramatic change in his life, she listened and allowed him to share what had taken place.
Such a remarkable change could not be sustained as a lie. For the past ten years, Mr Heath had devoted himself to helping their cause. Once he was married, he studied theology and became a minister, now serving in a small parish in Pimbley. He had donated all his land to great causes, including an orphanage and a home for those in need.
Many who met Reverend Heath could not believe the man he had been before, and Dianna hardly recognised him, which was a very good thing indeed.
They sat together at dinner, Dianna’s mother and father, Jonas’s mother, Reverend Heath, and his lovely wife, Sylvia. The children crowded around with the older ones sitting still and the younger ones behaving playfully and struggling to be obedient.
“Winifred …” Dianna warned as she saw the mischievous way her youngest looked at Gabriel. She had a spoonful of mashed potatoes, which Dianna was certain would have been secretly launched at her brother had Dianna not noticed.
But Winifred’s grin fell, and she put the spoon in her mouth, eating instead of playing, just as Dianna had hoped. She sighed in relief that the meal had not turned into a mess.
Eleanor, one of the maids, entered with wine to refill their glasses, and Dianna thanked her, as did the others. They knew that it was unusual, but it was a rule in their home that maids must always be shown gratitude for their work.
At the end of the evening, when they had spent a good amount of time together, everyone departed, and the children went to bed, leaving only Jonas and Dianna in the parlour, exhausted but happy from the day.
Dianna rested her head against Jonas’s chest, and he held an arm around her shoulders.
“My dear, you have been very busy today,” he said.
“We both have. I am glad it was such a full day, but I am very tired,” she said.
“Do you want to go to bed?”
“No,” she replied. “I want to stay here, sitting with you and enjoying your heartbeat.”
“Is it very loud?” he asked in amusement.
“Your heart is always loud,” she said.
“How so?” he asked, sounding confused.
“I can hear your heart right now as my ear is pressed to your chest. I can hear your heart when you call to our sons that you wish to spend time with them. I can hear your heart when you tell me, excitedly, about some new venture for the business. I can hear your heart when you rally around the workers. I can hear your heart when you speak of your mother, and I can hear your heart whenever you speak to me directly,” she told him.
Jonas gave her a gentle squeeze.
“You are too sweet, my darling. And my heart is not half so loud as yours if all of that is enough to hear it,” he said.
“My heart was bitter and selfish before I met you. There was nothing beautiful about it until you entered my life, Jonas. And now that you are here, with me, nothing is the same as it was,” she said.
“I believe everything changed for us both, Dianna. No matter who we were in the past, it does not reflect our present or our future aside from how it has formed us into different people than who we used to be,” Jonas said.
“I know, but I still struggle with knowing that you met me when I was such a horror,” Dianna said. “Even after all these years, I live with that painful regret. You did not deserve the woman I was back then.”
“And you did not deserve the arrogant and prideful man you believed me to be. In all honesty, I did show myself to be that man for many years. My character may have begun to change before yours did, but it still doesn’t mean that I was perfect by any means. And knowing who you were then and who you are now, it only makes me love you more to know how tender your heart is,” Jonas said.
Dianna knew how fortunate she was that he had given her so many chances. She loved her husband more than she had ever imagined loving another soul, and there was nothing she would change in their life together aside from wishing it had begun sooner. Jonas was the greatest man in all the world—and certainly the most patient.
Their future held more promise to come. Dianna knew that she was nearing her best days of bearing children and had been thinking about whether she might want to try for one more. She hadn’t mentioned it to Jonas yet, but they had both been the only children in their homes and had agreed they wanted a larger family. She figured there was no better time to ask him than at that moment.
“What if we chose to expand our hearts further?” she asked.
“Hmm? What do you mean by that?” Jonas asked.
“I mean that I would like to have the cries of a baby around again, to have those little fingers curl around mine, to hear the first laughs of a baby,” she said, looking up at him with hope in her eyes.
Jonas could not stop his smile.
“I was hoping you would say that. I have been thinking about it lately, but I know how busy you are with the children we have and the work you do for the sake of the maids. But if you would be willing to have another child, nothing would make me happier,” he said.
Dianna was thrilled to hear this, and she sweetly kissed Jonas, who took her by the hand and stood, helping her up.
“I know you are tired, my dear, but tomorrow, we will discuss it further,” he said.
“Thank you, Jonas. I could not be any luckier than having you for a husband,” she said, following Jonas up the stairs to their room.
It was strange how long she had adamantly refused to follow him or any other man, knowing that it would ruin her independence. And yet, she found that her identity was not only in being true to herself but in being true to the love in her heart.